North Dakota has long attracted entrepreneurs to the plains. From advancements in farming to oil recovery techniques, many a new idea and technology has found a start in its fertile landscape. Now, a digital, tech-savvy generation is making its way to the state to connect with expertise and excitement as North Dakota positions itself to become the Silicon Valley of the drone industry.
“North Dakota is not positioning to become a leader; it already is one,” North Dakota Economic Development & Finance Division Director John Schneider said. “It is the best state to test drones in and has provided more than $43 million to advance UAS technology and applications.”
Schneider points to the fact the state is collaborating with domestic and international organizations to build this emerging industry. “We are becoming the Silicon Valley for Drones,” he says.
A growing cluster of UAS research, business and military interests call North Dakota home. Successful partnerships among private businesses, universities and the state continue to strengthen North Dakota’s position as a UAS leader. North Dakota boasts one of the most unencumbered and accessible airspaces in the nation. The state continues to have a strong economy, and businesses and residents are enjoying some of the largest cuts in income and property taxes in the state’s history.
Since becoming the nation’s first operational test site in 2014, North Dakota has attracted investment from leading aerospace companies including General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Air Force and NASA. Entrepreneurs are also finding niches within the industry, along with utility companies and provides hoping to use UAS technology for monitoring purposes.
“North Dakota is the place for entrepreneurs looking for exciting opportunities in the rapidly-expanding UAS industry,” Schneider said. “North Dakota wants them to know that we have the resources and capability to robustly support them in their endeavors.”
The University of North Dakota Center for Innovation Foundation’s technology incubator is home to 26 unmanned aerial systems-related companies, mostly entrepreneurs or international companies working to establish themselves in the emerging marketplace as national airspace opens up for UAS operations. This new industry cluster will diversify and grow the state’s economy. The UAS entrepreneur cluster is larger than in any other accelerator, incubator or entrepreneur center in the nation.
“North Dakota continues to attract innovators in UAS technology, and we welcome the opportunity to foster entrepreneurship here and set the leading example for best practices in this sector,” Schneider said. “You will see the next generation of drone technology developed in North Dakota.”
Grand Sky: Largest Unmanned Business Park in the U.S.
The state has committed about $16 million for infrastructure projects essential to establish an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training academy at the Grand Sky UAS business and Technology Park in Grand Forks. Grand Sky is located on 217 acres of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, just west of the city of Grand Forks. Grand Sky tenants, like Northrop Grumman enjoy access to the Air Force Base’s runway and the ability to launch and recover all classes of UAS. The full package includes safe airspace to test fly, connection to local investors interested in the UAS industry, and access to a UAS data communication infrastructure.
“The park offers state-of-the-art facilities for UAS development, testing and training, sensor technology development and data analysis and management,” Schneider said. “It capitalizes on the state’s UAS test site, the expertise of regional academic institutions such as the University of North Dakota’s UAS Center of Excellence, and is an excellent location for the growing cluster of private UAS companies.”
First Unmanned Aircraft Flight Beyond the Visual Line of Sight
The first flight of an unmanned aircraft that goes both beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator and without a chase plane occurred in North Dakota in August 2018. The flight was conducted by General Atomics and comes on the heels of an announcement made by General Atomics CEO Linden Blue that the company is planning to more than triple its presence at Grand Sky.
“The BVLOS flight is an important breakthrough for our state and the UAS industry as a whole,” Schneider said. “The capability to fly unmanned aircraft beyond the visual line of sight of the operator and without a chase plane pushes North Dakota ahead of the pack in the UAS sector.”
This recently-authorized capability will help to advance the development, testing and evaluation of UAS applications while also supporting the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.
For more information North Dakota UAS Opportunities, please contact The North Dakota Department of Commerce at 701-328-5300 or visit their website at: http://www.business.nd.gov/aviation/.
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